Cop out at COP27 | The Financial Express

Cop out at COP27

While the creation of a loss and damage fund is welcome, agreement on phasedown of fossil fuels remains elusive

Cop out at COP27
This shows the developed world is unwilling to shoulder responsibility for historical emissions and will continue to focus on current emissions, to the detriment of developing nations pursuing growth. (Representative image)

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres’s deep disappointment with the outcome of the 27th Conference of Parties (COP 27) is sure to be echoed across the world. Guterres said on Sunday that the planet continues to be in the “emergency room” and the COP “did not address” the need to drastically reduce emissions urgently.

To be sure, the agreement on establishing a “loss and damage” fund through which rich nations—accounting for a disproportionate share of the historical post-industrial emissions—can help vulnerable nations cope with disaster wrought by climate change can be considered a win. More so, as it was the result of the G-77, a group of 134 developing nations, staying united on this. But the decision took decades after the concept was first mooted; this is testimony that developed nations continue to remain reluctant on assuming meaningful climate responsibility. Instead, they urge the developing world to take on the mantle of “climate leadership”. This is further evidenced by the fact that details on how the fund is to be operationalised remain hazy. The COP27 text doesn’t indicate when it is to be finalised, and how exactly it is to be funded—rich nations have agreed to it on the proviso that the donor base is to be a “broad” one. Though there is mention of a transitional committee that will work on those details, there are no deadlines set for the committee. Also, the language on the loss and damage fund carefully avoids allowing any interpretation that could facilitate climate “reparations” or “compensations”. This shows the developed world is unwilling to shoulder responsibility for historical emissions and will continue to focus on current emissions, to the detriment of developing nations pursuing growth.

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Worse, even as COP27 reaffirmed the goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, once again, there could be no agreement reached on phasedown of all fossil fuels. COP26 at Glasgow had agreed on a phasedown of unabated coal power and “phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. India, which has made substantial commitments on adoption of renewables, had insisted fossil fuels meant oil and natural gas were included and the focus can’t be just on coal.

Even as the EU agreed—though it said this shouldn’t mean a weakening of existing coal reduction agreements— bear in mind that European nations have been reverting to coal-based power following the energy crisis due to Russia’s war against Ukraine. This points at the outsized and continuing influence of the fossil fuel lobby, significant as the UAE, a petro-state, assumes the presidency of the COP next year. The mitigation work programme to bring emissions down in line with the 1.5°C goal was also washed out in the talks, with a focus on keeping it “non-prescriptive, non-punitive, facilitative, respectful of national sovereignty and national circumstances”, though the blame for this is shared amongst emerging economies.

Against this backdrop, India’s Long Term Low Emissions and Development Strategy (LTLEDS), submitted to the UNFCCC on Monday can’t be faulted too much. There are obvious misses—it doesn’t mention any interim goal-post and could have included a plan for reducing emissions from agriculture. At the same time, it rightly focuses on the history of emissions, and the need for “climate justice” that balances developing countries’ responsibilities with their development needs. The scepticism on carbon capture may not be entirely merited, but if it does indeed become a tool for the fossil fuel lobby to defer mitigation action, India may be on the right side of history.

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First published on: 21-11-2022 at 05:15 IST